The Teenage Years and Beyond
The realization that you’ve graduated from raising a child, to raising a young adult comes almost over-night. One day you’re holding the hand of your child, who stands as high as your waste, walking into the movie theater to watch the latest animated movie. The next minute that same child is tall enough to look you in the eye now, and ask you to drop them off at the theater with their friends, to go see the latest PG-13 movie. Parenting a “typical” teenager can be a trying and tricky business - and parenting a teenager with unique challenges has an additional set of circumstances and considerations that must be dealt with. As any parent of a child with special circumstances knows, the cultural expectations or any legal privileges that come with turning 16, 18, 21, or the cookie-cutter benchmarks that are traditionally associated with any age number for that matter, don’t and shouldn’t necessarily apply to those facing certain challenges. As I’ve said many times before, knowing your child, your own circumstances, and what will support the well-being of your child are ultimately what should govern your parental decisions and actions. Even while we are helping our children to defy diagnoses and exceed expectations, we must still be mindful and realistic about lingering deficits.
Chase will be 14-years-old this year, and like typical teenagers, he is gradually becoming more assertive with his opinions, and expressing the desire to be more independent in certain areas of his life. Some parents of either typical or non-typical teenagers, find that this season in life is further complicated by negative thought patterns and / or aggressive, harmful behaviors from their teenagers. While I do not have these kind of issues to contend with, I still have other types of concerns which could be troublesome, and even life-threatening, if not handled properly.
In previous posts, I’ve shared in detail the cognitive processing and physical challenges that accompany Chase’s diagnoses (memory and multi-tasking; and motor skills, speech, comprehension, etc.); and in the post titled “Conflict Resolution Workshop”, I address some of Chase’s personality characteristics, and the ways in which he responds to adversity and conflict. Anger, aggression, hatefulness, violence, deceitfulness, and defiance just don’t seem to be a part of his DNA. He is naturally wired to be almost naively honest and forever optimistic; to be trusting of others and to believe the very best about people; and what others would deem an impossible situation, he will try to find a way to make it possible. That all sounds lovely and wonderful - however, the reality is that people are not always trustworthy, nor are they thinking and acting with the best of intentions towards others. Good and evil, right and wrong do exist. When circumstances prove contrary to Chase’s perceptions of the world, depending on the nature and intensity of the situation, he will try to make the participants laugh to lighten the mood and turn things around to the sunny side again. And when that is not possible, he can become confused, overly compliant, or withdrawn and paralyzed – a potential target for all kinds of manipulation and abuse, if he were not so well protected by a solid wall of discerning and dedicated supporters. With time, experience, and maturity Chase is beginning to develop a more realistic understanding of people and the world; and how to prevent and / or effectively respond to adversity and conflict. In addition to being exposed to the inevitable offenses, injustices, and disappointments that can creep into daily living, his homeschooling studies have delved into issues like the Holocaust, slavery, and forms of racism and bigotry; hate crimes and atrocities; and the consequences of war. We don’t dwell on these subjects to the point of sensory overload, or unhealthy distraction and disturbance. They are presented in a manner which lets Chase know that these are things he needs to be aware of in order to remain safe. As I said, he’s learning and growing. Yet, for the time being, Chase is who he is; and I need to continue to be his “Chief of Security”, and selectively hand-pick who is allowed into his inner circle of associates, and who is qualified to oversee situations when I am not present. If, where, with whom, when, what time, and how long he is allowed to be in a situation is still very much my ultimate responsibility and decision. Of course, I encourage dialogue and listen to what Chase’s preferences, perceptions, concerns, and opinions are. This gives him a genuine sense of being respected and valued, and keeps the lines of communication open between us. It also helps me to evaluate his understanding of things. Sometimes we are in agreement, and other times his perceptions are “off”, and I must overrule his desires, in favor of what I know is actually best for him. In those instances, he doesn’t always understand or appreciate why I have made a decision, and he feels disappointed and frustrated. But he generally bounces back fairly quickly, and he eventually comes to understand the “why” behind the decision.
Another issue that I’m very cognizant of, and one that is just becoming real to Chase, is the sad and potentially dangerous fact that young men of color are still discriminated against, even in this day and age. In some places, for him to be present or even nearby when certain unpleasant, controversial, or unlawful activities are occurring, could lead to a false accusation or other forms of attack, simply because of the color of his skin, the texture of his hair, his gender, size, and age. He could inadvertently find himself in a position where he is not equipped to defend himself. And actions that are considered by some to be excusable for young white men (“boys-will-be-boys”), are viewed as unacceptable and threatening for young men of color to engage in, and could lead to his harm. Again, not something we dwell on, but as Chase gets older, wise decisions and being well mannered are paramount; and it is increasingly more important for both of us to be aware of his surroundings and those present as we travel more extensively, and even in our own neighborhood.
When it comes to things like doing his cooking shows, traveling, his other ambitions and areas of interest, I regularly check-in with him to make sure he is still committed to and happy with the path that he is on. I take his vision, thoughts, and feelings in these matters very seriously. This is also an opportunity for him to assert himself and develop confidence in an arena that is of great importance and very personal to him. If there ever needs to be a legitimate change, be it small or drastic, I do not (and will not) hesitate to make the adjustment.
The types, extent, and duration of assistance that Chase requires has yet to be determined. Some could be only a few years, while others could be a lifetime…only time and circumstance can tell – not a particular age number. In the meantime, there will be other things to consider that most of us take for granted: if or when he drives his own car; handles money transactions unsupervised; goes on outings with his peers unsupervised; starts dating; attends meetings on his own, etc. How all of these things manifest in Chase’s life will be dictated by whatever keeps him healthy, safe, thriving, and happy.